Tonys story reveals much about the life of young people surviving on the streets of Portland. It also is a very personal tragedy. He struggled for years to overcome the effects of a learning disability, Tourette's syndrome and a childhood full of upheaval, only to lose his struggle with drugs.
His mother, Frances Terroni advocated tirelessly on his behalf while working seven days a week to support her three children. Many others reached out to Tony. His uncle, Jim Ledue, gave him jobs and free meals at Ledue's upscale restaurants in Portland. Sophie Payson-Rand befriended Tony when he showed up at the teen shelter where she worked. She stayed in touch with him for years afterward, encouraging him to get his life on track. In the end, those efforts weren't enough to save Tony's life.
TROUBLED HOME LIFE
Anthony James Terroni II was born on May 13, 1975. When he was 4, his family moved from Munjoy Hill to a house they had built in Buxton. By then, he had a younger sister, Elizabeth, and a brother, James.
Home was a troubled place. His father, Anthony Terroni I, admits he drank heavily and used cocaine and speed. He had been convicted of breaking and entering before his son was born, and would be convicted of burglar and theft in 1994. By his own account, Anthony "verbally abused" his wife and children.
In drunken rages, he sometimes broke up the furniture. He moved out three times before Frances decided she had had enough. Her divorce petition says she feared for her safety. The divorce, granted in 1983, gave her custody of the three children.
Tony, then 8, wore thick glasses and got teased at school. He tried to protect himself by going after other children before they could bother him. At home, he bossed around his sister and brother. "He never hit me, said his sister, Liz. "However, if he figured out ways to torture you, he would."
Worried about her son, Frances arranged for him to see a psychologist. That meant asking friends to drive them to Portland for the weekly sessions. She also began a long, frustrating effort to convince the special education department in School Administrative District 6 that Tony needed neurological testing.
Anthony Terroni was an unstable presence in his son's life. He moved a lot, once living in about a dozen places in a single year. He paid child support sporadically. By his own admission, he was so wrapped up in drinking and drugs that he didn't give much attention to the three children he had with Frances or the son that he had with his second wife, Lisa. But Tony was his favorite. "I could see myself in him, Anthony said.
By fifth grade, Tony's problems had worsened.
The school district finally agreed to have him evaluated. He was diagnosed as emotionally disturbed and having attention deficit disorder. He began taking Ritalin, a drug used to treat attention deficit disorder, and attending Sweetser, a Saco school for students with emotional problems and learning disabilities.
Tony stayed at Sweetser day school program for two years. But he pushed away those trying to help him, as he would over and over again in the years ahead.
Over his mother's objections, educators decided to mainstream Tony at Bonny Eagle Junior High School in seventh grade.
Around that time, he started making strange noises that sounded like barking and honking. At first, the adults working with him thought it was a habit or caused by nervousness about changing schools. But he eventually was diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome, a hereditary neurological disorder.
The most common symptoms of the syndrome are tics - involuntary, sudden movements and vocalizations that occur repeatedly. People with Tourette's often act in obsessive and compulsive ways, sometimes repeating behaviors over and over. Many have attention deficit disorder. The syndrome usually appears in elementary school, worsens in response to stress and may diminish or disappear by adolescence. Tony took medication to help control his symptoms.
At Bonny Eagle, Tony was placed for a while in a classroom where he was the only student.
Things didn't go well. He hated being different. He scratched notes on desks about "death, suicide and flushing his head down the toilet," his mother said. He lasted only three weeks before he went to the Augusta Mental Health Institute for an evaluation. That marked the beginning of his shuffling from one program, group home or shelter to another.
As chaos swirled around him, Tony reached out to his father. He suggested that they could be in a rock band together. But that didn't happen. Instead, as Tony became a teen-ager, he and his father often spent their time together smoking pot, according to several family members. Anthony Terroni claims he smoked pot with his son only once.
"It wasn't a father-son relationship," said Lisa Terroni, who was married to Anthony from 1991 to 1995. "It was a relationship where they were the closest of friends... 'Let's do this together.' Things they shouldn't have been doing."
At home, Tony's frequent outbursts and odd behavior scared his mother. In a rage, he pulled the phone out of the wall. He cut all of the crotches out of James' stuffed animals and used a shard of glass to cut his mother's jeans.
Frances Terroni feared for her family's safety. She was frustrated that the programs she kept finding for Tony - Spurwink School in Casco, the Pike residential treatment program in New Hampshire, a shelter in Lewiston - never worked out. When he misbehaved or spurned the help offered to him, he'd be sent backhome.
Frances lay awake at night, worrying that Tony might hurt her or her other children.
"Whenever Tony is home, our home is like a prison," she wrote at the time. "We are all afraid of him and he knows it. My daughter cannot even walk thru a room without getting hurt, even if I am in the room with them. And I can do nothing about it because I have absolutely no control over him - he has all the I power."
After battling with "the system" to get him help, she wrote, "I have no fight left in me."
Yet Frances was filled with compassion for her son. She saw a child who didn't like himself enough to accept caring and guidance from others. She was afraid that he might attempt suicide.
In a moment of candor, he asked her, "Mom, why don't I like people to hug me?"
She told him, "I hope someday we'll find out."
When Tony was 15, his mother decided that the only way she could protect her other children and hope to get Tony help was to relinquish custody to the state.
"He scares me so," she wrote. "I miss him. I want him to be free of all of what is inside of him. Please somebody, help him before it's too late."
MAINE YOUTH CENTER
In 1990, Tony was caught for the first time committing a burglary. He broke into his grandmother's house in Portland, stole some of her checks and tried to cash one. Frances Terroni insisted that her mother-in-law press charges. Having Tony at the Maine Youth Center meant at least he was warm, safe and off the streets.
Between Oct. 31,1990, and May 13, 1993, Tony was in and out of the Youth Center several times for a variety of offenses. Once, he and another kid were caught heaving pumpkins, squash and cucumbers from a highway bridge onto tractor-trailers.
Tony wrote to his mother on Aug. 3, 1991, and asked whether she would visit that weekend. He warned her that he might be in shackles.
In the years ahead, Tony would write many more letters to his family while incarcerated, often decorating them with elaborate graffiti. He'd gripe about jail. ("I'm going insane here in this membrane.") He'd cadge for stamps, books and other items. ("Could you please go to the Gap in the mall and buy me a pair of black 38W jeans?" His letters reveal a precocious knowledge of jail life ("December is always the fastest month to go by in jail') and, at times, his determination to change.
"I'm all done living like this," he once wrote his mother. "Time to get a job and move on."
Tony left the Youth Center for good on his, 18th birthday. After a few months at his mother's house in Standish, he went to Portland to live on his own. He spent much of the next three years homeless, staying with friends or wherever else he could find a place. But he felt more acceptance on the streets of Portland than he had anywhere else.
Tony worked a few, short stints as a dishwasher at the restaurants owned by his uncle, Jim Ledue - Alberta's, Bella Bella and Zephyr Grill. He worked hard, Ledue said, but worried about what other people thought of him. He'd say, "I know people out there don't think I'm fast enough." He seldom lasted more than a few days on the job, and once quit after a single shift. Mostly, he got money by stealing.
Between the ages of 18 and 22, he was arrested more than a dozen times, mainly for burglary or related charges. He pleaded guilty to most of the charges, and served time in the Cumberland County Jail, the Maine Correctional Center in Windham and the Rockingham County Jail in New Hampshire Twice, he enrolled in the substance abuse program at Mercy Hospital's Recovery Center to avoid jail time.
Tony collected a diverse group of friends. There were street kids, former inmates, a girl who lived in her car, students at the Maine College of Art, youth workers like Sophie Payson-Rand who wouldn't give up on him. After his mother moved back to Portland in 1996, he also spent a lot of time with his brother, James.
But Tony didn't like his worlds to mix. He'd see friends individually or in small groups and share little about how he spent his time when he wasn't with them.
"He led very separate lives, very compartmentalized," said Payson-Rand.
For someone who bounced from place to place, Tony was surprisingly fastidious. He always carried a toothbrush and used it frequently. He spent a long time dressing each day. He tailored his own pants, so that the crotches hung to his knees. He cooked fancy dishes - stir-fried mushrooms and fettuccine with homemade pesto sauce. He had refined tastes in beer (Samuel Adams), juice (Fresh Samantha) and coffee (Medaglia d'Oro).
In 1995, Tony was interviewed by a New York filmmaker. He looked young and appealing, despite his efforts to shock the camera operator by thrusting out his fake teeth. He talked in a matter-of-fact way that bordered on bragging about his time in jail. But he was emphatic about not wanting to go back. He said his one ambition was to "get enough money to get an apartment."
Tony spent his days and nights playing computer games, blasting Earth Crisis and other heavy-metal music through his earphones, smoking Newport Menthols, walking around town with his friends and spray painting Portland with his own brand of graffiti. He wrote in big, block letters that blended together nearly to the point of illegibility: "Control," "Disrupt," "Rage," "Angst," ''Portland's Notorious Prankster." His graffiti was so ubiquitous that police referred to someone else's tag as a "Tony Terroni look-alike."
Tony was proud of his work, and he showed it off to relatives. When police cracked down on him for his graffiti, he started drawing on paper instead of buildings. In a night, he'd fill a whole notebook with outrageous script and doodles.
Once, Tony sketched his idea for a breakfast menu for AIberta's and gave it to his uncle. "It was beautifully drawn," said Ledue "He had drawing skills that were just innate."
Friends encouraged him to pursue jobs that would take advantage of his talent. He never followed up.
When Tony was 19, he met Bruce Balboni then in his late 40s. Despite their age difference, they became close friends. Over the next two years, Tony spent a lot of time at Balboni's apartment on Cumberland Avenue. They'd watch mob-themed movies together and talk about music and art.
Bruce Balboni said he gave Tony rides, bailed him out of jail and offered to help pay for Tony to go to cooking school. He came to regard Tony as "the best friend I ever had."
But others say there was a dark side to their friendship. They say Tony and Balboni used heroin together. Bruce Balboni admitted that he is a longtime heroin addict, but he declined to discuss whether he used the drug with his friend.
The details of when and why Tony started taking heroin are not known. By 1995, he was using the drug at least occasionally. Heroin made Tony feel in control and all-powerful, "like Superman," said his father, who saw him high several times. "He thought nobody, nothing could affect him." Tony also was jumpy and easily irritated when high. "He was living a life going much faster than it should have been," Anthony Terroni said.
Tony sometimes got a ride to Lawrence, Mass., to buy heroin there, but he mostly seemed to purchase his drugs locally. He typically took one or two bags, either snorting or shooting up. Even that amount could make him overdose or nod off. Overdoses can cause immediate death. They also can cause death hours later from heart failure, respiratory system failure or pneumonia caused by liquids entering the lungs.
Tony hid his heroin use from many of his friends and family. But his mother and others who loved him had premonitions that he would die young. Every time Frances Terroni said goodbye to him, she told him to be careful.
FALLNG IN LOVE
In March 1997, Tony's life took an unexpected and wonderful turn. He fell in love.
She was a senior at the Maine College of Art. One night during spring break, she went out with a friend from her dorm who knew Tony. They spent the evening with Tony and another of his friends, smoking and snorting heroin. She said that was the only time she ever saw him taking the drug, although he did talk to her about using it.
Within a few weeks, she was spending a lot of time with Tony. "We'd sit up all night and drink coffee and talk," she said. She shared with him the experience of growing up in a home full of emotional upheaval. She was attracted by his intelligence, his spontaneity and the thrill of going out with someone whom others regarded as a bad boy.
But she soon became annoyed by Tony's secretive nature. He would disappear for a few days at a time and offer no explanation when he returned.
She nearly flunked out her final semester. Friends, she said, asked why she was going out with "a loser like that." Her roommates didn't like having him around. Dormitory officials finally said she had to leave.
She joined Tony in his room at the Sandman Motel on Route 1 in South Portland. By then, he had qualified for Supplemental Security Income because of his disability from Tourette's syndrome. State workers placed him in the motel until they could help him find an apartment.
Tony and his girlfrien were passionate with each other. The boy who once hated to be touched had learned to give "the best hugs," she said. He loved being babied, she said, and sometimes climbed onto her lap. Relatives who had never seen Tony with a girlfriend before noticed how happy he seemed. On good days, the couple talked about getting married someday and having children.
But the tension of being cooped up in a small motel room with little money or food got to both of them. They survived on Nutty Bars, turkey and bagels from a Dunkin Donut across the street. When they argued, as they often did, Tony took off, not telling her where he was going. "He frustrated me to no end," she said.
After her graduation, she decided she'd had enough. She went home to West Boylston, Mass. But she soon returned, and they resumed what would be an on-again, off-again relationship.
In his best moments, Tony wrote her sweet love notes as he staved off insomnia. In one of his worst moments, he got so angry at her that he threw her clothes all over the Sandman parking lot.
Knowing little about Tony's heroin use she attributed his mood swings to whether he had money. He was in high spiribs after a burglary, she said, and sometimes blew his entire take in a single day.
In June 1997, Tony got his own apartment. The building, on Congress Sheet across from Joe's Smoke Shop, might have looked seedy to relatives. But Tony was proud of his place. He covered an entire wall with a collage of images: his graffiti, magazine pictures, his baby picture, a card bearing the message "Drugs Don't Work."
While he depended on his $331 monthly checks from SSI, he told relatives he wanted to get off public aid. He asked his uncle about getting a job at Zephyr Grill. Before, his mother always had arranged for the restaurant jobs; this was the first time Tony asked about work.
Some parts of his life were improving, but Tony's relationship with his father continued to gnaw at him. Anthony Terroni had a key to the apartment and often crashed there. Tony finally became so frustrated and angry with his father that he changed the lock.
Tony feared that heroin was strengthening its grip. He hid his concerns from most of his loved ones. But his brother, James, saw him go through withdrawal symptoms a few times. "When he didn't have (heroin), he'd get real sick and he'd lay around all day. Smoke a couple of joints and lay on the couch," James said.
In July 1997, Tony tried to sign up for the methadone program at Discovery House in South Portland.
Methadone is a synthetic opiate used as a substitute for heroin. Although addicts become dependent on drinking their daily doses of methadone, they do not experience the euphoria or the lows of heroin. Tony's friend Bruce Balboni, was among the 225 addicts enrolled in the South Portland clinic last year. Most had been addicted for a long time and had failed repeatedly in other attempts to kick the habit.
Tony went through extensive testing at the clinic. He was referred to Mercy Hospital's Recovery Center, a program better suited for people in the early stages of addiction. There is no evidence that he contacted the Mercy program.
As the summer of 1997 wore on, Tony's life became more tumultuous. His girlfriend was living in Massachusetts and visiting him less frequently. He called her nearly every day. His letters became increasingly needy and desperate. "I need to kiss you until I can't breathe, I'm so alone without you," he wrote her on Aug. 8.
Once, he grabbed her address book and scribbled next to his phone number "Anthony Terroni. Deceased. Could be found at the Calvary Cemetery in South Porland"
Tony feared that he was wanted by police. He went out at night, wore dark clothes and cut through alleys to avoid being seen. He complained about not being able to sleep and feeling cold all the time. She noticed that he seemed to be losing weight.
In early October 1997, Tony called his friend Sophie Payson-Rand, who had begun working for the Portland police at the Parkside Neighborhood Center. He admitted he was doing badly because of drugs but wouldn't go into details. He told his father that he recently had overdosed three or four times.
Around the third week of October, Tony confessed to his mother that he was using heroin. He told her the drug made him feel "nothing." Knowing of his emotional turmoil, she understood how that was a relief. She urged him to get help. He assured her that he could beat it on his own.
Tony's heroin use seemed to increase the last week of October 1997.
He took James with him to buy heroin at a West End apartment. He spent Tuesday night, Oct. 28, at Balboni's apartment. Bruce Balboni said Tony overdosed on one or two bags of heroin that night. He said that he revived Tony by standing him up, walking around with him and slapping his face.
Tony took heroin again on Wednesday night. He stayed up all night at his mother's house in the Deering neighborhood, watching TV and doing laundry.
Friday was Halloween. Tony stopped by Valle's Steak House in the evening to see his mother and brother, who both worked there.
"I love you," he told his mother, giving her a big hug.
"Be careful," she told him, as always.
Tony then went to Bruce Balboni's apartment to spend a last night with his friend before Bruce Balboni made a long-planned move to California. What happened next may never be known. The two witnesses, Bruce Balboni and Tony's father, gave accounts to police that differ in significant ways.
Anthony Terroni told police he arrived at Bruce Balboni's apartment around 6 p.m., hoping to find a place to rest. He said Bruce Balboni told Tony, 'I'll do more if you do." Anthony said they went into the bathroom together and he presumes they took heroin there. Anthony told police his son seemed to be "wired" the rest of the evening, jumping around the room and acting as if he was doing karate. With the music blasting, Anthony said he finally decided at 10:30 p.m. that he wouldn't get much rest there that night. He said he left for a friend's place on Oak Street.
Bruce Balboni told police that Tony showed up at his apartment shortly before midnight on Oct 31. He said they sat in the living room and watched television for about an hour. Then, he said, Tony pulled out a small bag of heroin and disappeared into the bathroom for about 20 minutes. He returned to the living room couch, Bruce Balboni told police, and at some point they both fell asleep.
In a recent interview, Bruce Balboni added a new detail: He said he awoke in the night, noticed that Tony had overdosed and managed to revive his friend. He said Tony told him to "chill out."
Neither witness mentioned Tony shooting methadone. But the autopsy report would show that sometime late that night, after using heroin, he also shot methadone.
Bruce Balboni said he slept until about 11 am. on Saturday, Nov. 1. When he awoke, he said, Tony appeared to be asleep on the couch next to him, covered by several blankets. He said he noticed that Tony's lips were blue and that his skin was cold. He said that he and his nephew tried to revive Tony by putting him in a bathtub of cold water, and that he called 911.
When the rescue squad arrived at 11:11 a.m., Tony was dead.
Police found a bag af heroin, an empty bag, a syringe and a needle in Tony's pockets. The medical examiner's report says he died from methadone poisoning. His body apparently was so depressed by the drugs that his gag reflex didn't work. Vomit or other body fluids went into his lungs, causing pneumonia.
Tony's family had feared that he would die young, but they struggled to believe that it really had happened. Numbing shock gave way to overwhelming sadness.
Frances Terroni insisted that the obituary list heroin as the cause of death "I wanted it maybe to stop somebody else", she said. "I didn't want Tony's death to be wasted." She had Tony cremated, because she felt certain that he wouldn't want people looking at him. She brought his remains home with her.
Tony's funeral, at Hay & Peabody in Portland, drew more than 200 people from all the cubicles of his life that he had carefully kept separate: The girl who lived in her car. Street kids in their hooded sweat shirts. People whom Tony had met in jail. Payson-Rand and other counselors who tried to help him over the years.
Anthony Terroni noticed similiar scrawlings on a garage behind the funeral home. It was Tony's graffiti.
DEATH IS CATALYST
In the year since Tony's death police have given up their effort to determine where he got the drugs that killed him. They ruled his death an accidental overdose.
Bruce Balboni, in a recent phone interview, seemed stunned by the finding that Tony had died of methadone poisoning. Bruce Balboni an knowledged that he had legal access to methadone through the South Portland clinic, but he declined to answer further questions about his own methadone use and whether he kept methadone at home. Bruce Balboni said Tony's death was the worst thing that ever happened to him. He said he spent the three months after Tony's death sitting in his kitchen, grieving and feeling responsible for not getting help sooner. He said he was so depressed that he tried to kill himself last winter.Br>
Tony's death became a catalyst for Bruce Balboni. He said he gave up heroin, eased off methadone and turned to the Roman Catholic Church for solace. In January, he moved to the San Francisco area, where he is a temporary worker. He has AIDS. He recently celebrated his 50th birthday. He said he thinks about Tony every day.
Tony's, now 24, keeps a box of letters, graffti and other mementos from Tony in her file cabinet. Last summer, she began dating an old family friend. She lives with him in Webster, Mass. They were to be married on Saturday, and their first child is due in May. She remembers Tony lovingly but now believes their relationship was doomed from the start.
Tony's sister, Liz, left Portland after Tony's death. She joined a friend in the small town of Ashland, NH. Everywhere she goes she carries in her pocket one of the few presents her brother ever gave her - a roach box for marijuana cigarette butts. Inside, a slip from a fortune cookie predicts, 'You will make change for the better."
James Terroni, 19, lives in Portland. He thinks about his brother as he passes Tommy's Park and other places where they used to hang out." "This pain is so different than any other I have ever felt in my life," James wrote, in a memoriam to his brother that appeared in the newspaper on Nov. 1. "It's not a pain I am good at expressing. None of my friends see it. Rarely my family sees it. But I feel it every day. Every day I walk alone thinking about when I was walking with Tony. Knowing that every brick I hit, he hit that same brick at least 10 more times than I have."
Anthony Terroni's legal troubles have worsened in the past year. He faces burglary and related charges in Maine and New Hampshire. He recently quit his job as an attendant at a homeless shelter in Portland and left the boarding house where he had been living. His whereabouts are not known. Interviewed a month ago about his son, Anthony, 43, kept steering the conversation back to his own struggle with sobriety and other problems. But he clearly feels his son's loss deeply. When Tony died, he said, "part of me was gone." Anthony sought counseling to help him deal with the anger and guilt he says he feels for being a bad role model to his son.
Frances Terroni, 43, followed her daughter to Ashland, N.H., last summer. Portland had too many painful memories. Mother and daughter share an apartment. Frances waits tables at the Zephyr Grill in Portland and a New Hampshire restaurant, and she works as a bookkeeper for a Standish excavation company. When waitressing, she carries a picture of Tony in the book where she writes down orders. She wears his cross around her neck. She talks to him often.
Frances has created a shrine to Tony's in her living room. There are his graffiti, his bronzed baby shoe, a faux marble box containing his ashes and the Iyrics to a song, "Heroin," by the band Qenga, describing the drug as "God spit."
Frances' pain remains raw and close to the surface. A woman of delicate features framed by a mass of tinted curls, she weeps often when talking about Tony. Her broad shoulders slope forward. At times, her sorrow seems to inhale the oxygen in the room.
Always a caregiver, she survives by helping her other two children through the ordeal and by keeping Tony's memory alive. She's also sustained by anger at Bruce Balboni, her ex-husband and "the system" that failed her son.
During the past year, most of Tony's graffiti on downtown buildings has been removed or painted over. Four weeks ago, on the first anniversary of his death, his mother, sister and brother went to Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth to remember him.
By the ocean, they left a fitting memorial to Tony: two rocks spray-painted with nis name.
FOR MORE on heroin addiction, see Press Herald Online: www.portland.com
Here's where to get help if you or someone you know is using heroin:
The state Office of Substance Abuse's
Information and Resource Center,
1-800-499-0027. The center has directories
of services and support groups.
Mercy Hospital, Portland, 879-3600. For
detox or treatment. In-patient and
Catholic Charities Maine, Portland,
775-5671. Referrals for out-patient services.
Casco Bay Counseling, Portland, 775-1335.
Crossroads for Women, Portland, 892-2192.
Out-patient and in-patient treatment for women.
Day One, Portland, 874-1045. Out-patient and
in-patient treatment for adolescents
(18 and under) and family services.
Discovery House, South Portland,
774-7111. Metahadone services.
Milestone Portland, 775-4790.
Detox and shelter on India Street.